Why Franchise Times is Essential Reading

I’m a fan of the Franchise Times magazine and the people who publish it.  I consider it essential reading for franchisors, franchisees and, perhaps especially, prospective franchisees.  Franchise Times is an inside-the-industry publication and, as such, gives a much truer picture of what’s really happening in franchising.  You won’t find Franchise Times on the newsstand, but it’s readily available by subscription or by accessing the Franchise Times website.

Newsstand Entrepreneurial Press:  Hype, Fluff… or Fraud?

Tuesday I was quoted in the Wall Street Journal about my motivation for creating the controversial UnhappyFranchisee.com blog:

Mr. Kelly says he was put off by the promotional hype he had read in the franchise trade press about numerous concepts. “Almost nobody was writing anything bad,” he says, “and I wanted to give those with negative experiences a voice.”

Actually, “franchise trade press” was a poor choice of words.

Some interpreted that as a slam on FT, which it wasn’t.  I was actually referring to the newsstand entrepreneurial and small business opportunities magazines that target prospective first-time business owners.  These magazines portray a small business fantasyland where lovely, energetic entrepreneurs all enjoy  personal fulfillment and reap huge financial rewards as owners of their very own pooper scooper,  chewing gum removal, home mailbox decorating and mobile pet repair franchises.

As a marketing guy, I don’t mind a bit of fluff or some well-crafted spin now and then. And I’m certainly sensitive to the need to create an editorial environment that’s conducive to the needs of ones advertisers.  But these newsstand entrepreneurial publications & their much-touted Hottest Franchise! rankings push – if not cross – the line between spin and fraud.

These magazines portray a small business fantasyland where lovely, energetic entrepreneurs all enjoy  personal fulfillment and reap huge financial rewards as owners of their very own pooper scooper,  chewing gum removal, home mailbox decorating and mobile pet repair franchises.

The Dangers of Newsstand Hype

For example, a couple of years ago these publications hyped the ebay drop-off store concept as the hot new franchise opportunity.  Entrepreneur magazine named the largest, iSold It, as the #1 new franchise opportunity of 2007.  At the same time, iSold It franchise owners sent us proof that more than 60 franchisees had already failed, that many had defaulted on their $200,000 loans and were losing their homes, and the franchisor itself was teetering on the verge of bankruptcy.  Yet the printing presses were still pumping out the exciting success story for people ready to dream the impossible dream. (Read: Is iSoldit a Great Franchise Opportunity?)

iSold ceased franchising shortly after we (or rather their franchisees) broke the story.  Most of the stores have closed. The owner is reportedly enjoying his $2M house.  The only press the ex-franchisees are getting is their nameless inclusion in the loan default and home foreclosure statistics on CNN.  (Read:  iSold It Dropped from Entrepreneur 500, Loses Top New Franchise Crown)

Entrepreneur magazine is a useful publication with a lot of good content and a large franchise directory.  However, they sometimes hype both unproven, questionable, and often doomed “hot new concepts” and praise huge, heavily litigated and contentious franchise giants with nary a mention of the controversies and downsides of these undoubtedly large advertisers.

Why Franchise Times Couldn’t Get Away with That Nonsense.

Franchise Times serves the same basic advertiser base, but they couldn’t get away with such nonsense for a couple of reasons.  The first is that they are based in Minnesota.  Anyone who has watched Fargo knows that Minnesotans (think Marge Gunderson) are not wired for deception  and, if they try, they are not good at it (think Jerry Lundegaard).  In fact, part of new employee orientation at Franchise Times involves repeatedly watching Fargo, outdoor fishing and snowmobiling DVDs, and memorizing the best News From Lake Woebegone segments.

Anyone who has watched Fargo knows that Minnesotans (think Marge Gunderson) are not wired for deception  and, if they try, they are not good at it (think Jerry Lundegaard).

The second reason is that Franchise Times is read by real life franchise professionals, franchisors, franchisees and service providers.  While Franchise Times maintains a pleasant and upbeat tone, and is not above fluff (or, in some cases, fluffy) stories about their own pets, they also cover controversies, disputes, litigation and other challenges in franchising.

Their cover story on Quiznos a couple of years back was one of the first and most comprehensive accounts of that embattled company.  They have kept tabs on the story, and updated the woes of Quiznos franchisees as recently as the current issue (Quiznos update, Quiznos weighs in).  They are still the only major publication that has touched the Cuppy’s Coffee debacle (Franchise Times Recounts Cuppy’s Coffee’s “Blog Attacks,” Scoble Incident, Attacks from the blogosphere).

These are pretty bold editorial moves for a publication supported by franchisor advertising dollars.  Franchise Times should be applauded [insert applause here] for being willing to cover controversial and relevant topics.  Readers should encourage them to do more of it in the future.

Two Recommended Industry Events

Franchise Times also hosts two major industry events.

The Franchise Finance & Development Conference
May 4-6, 2009—The Palms, Las Vegas, NV

“The Conference is a proven educational and networking forum designed specifically for owners and executives of franchise companies who want to expand the rate of growth in their franchise systems.”

The Restaurant Finance & Development Conference
November 9-11, 2009—Bellagio Hotel, Las Vegas, NV

“The Restaurant Finance & Development Conference is the largest industry event that is exclusively focused on the finance side of the restaurant business. Designed for multi-unit restaurant operators and senior executives…”

WHAT DO YOU THINK?  LEAVE A COMMENT BELOW.

Images: Franchise Times

Full professional disclosure: I sometimes write for Franchise Times, they sometimes write about me, I am a regular listener of A Prairie Home Companion and am part-owner of a mobile pet repair franchise.